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The Modern Jazz Quartet: 'The Comedy'


MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: If that music makes you feel a little wistful, a little nostalgic, there's a reason. Hi, I'm Murray Horwitz, and today, we're inducting into the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library an excursion into the past... into Renaissance Italy, in fact. It's The Comedy, by The Modern Jazz Quartet.


HORWITZ: It makes sense that John Lewis, the artistic director of The Modern Jazz Quartet was intrigued by the European Renaissance. He was, after all, a kind of Renaissance man as a composer. He was at home in a wide range of musical idioms. He was immensely knowledgeable and virtuosic. In 1956, he had written Fontessa — that's the plaintive theme you heard at the beginning, and that opens The Comedy. Four years later, he turned his fascination with commedia dell'arte (the improvisational Italian Renaissance comedy) into a through-composed jazz suite. The result is an album of great range and beauty that has really stood the test of time.


HORWITZ: Pianist John Lewis and the other members of The MJQ — bassist Percy Heath, drummer Connie Kay, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson - are all great improvisers. And they seem to feel a poignant sympathy with the improvisational actors of the commedia some four centuries earlier.


HORWITZ: And if you only remember Diahann Carroll from reruns of Dynasty, you're in for a pleasant shock. She's the formidable guest vocalist on one track, "La Cantatrice."


HORWITZ: The CD is by The Modern Jazz Quartet, and it's called The Comedy. It's on Atlantic Jazz. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

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Murray Horwitz

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